Visual Design: Escaping Flatland | Targetprocess - Visual management software
10 years ago

Visual Design: Escaping Flatland

Books by Edward Tufte are a piece of art. I've been savoring them to myself for a while, and now I decided to share some sketches and criticism inspired by Tufte's high art visual designs.

Commonly, designers represent visual information by scarce means of 2D realm: screen and paper. Our universe is 3D (if not 5D, 6D or whatever more dimensions), but people got used to squeezing  images into 2D flatland.  Even rock paintings of pre-historic humans have their touch of 2-D abstraction and symbolism.

Our universe is not just 3D. It's dynamic 3D. Paper is static (paper planes are exceptions). That's another limitation of 2D.

Limitations are great. They motivate designers to find solutions. The more limitations - the harder it is to find a solution. Good designers love difficult tasks, since they view them as great opportunities to put their brains to use. Bad designers do not want to use their brains - they want to use templates.

The image below is a template solution for a weather map. View from above.  Let alone template thinking, the representation of this template is poor.

Visual Design: Escaping Flatland. Image 1

The appalling hint of white shade is a helpless attempt to compensate inadequate color selection for numbers.  What do you think of blue numbers on blue background? You hate that, to say the least of it. What's the message of these pseudo-3D grey circles? Are they some grey moons? Or cavities  in the designer's brain?

Now let's take a look at the Euronews channel weather map.  One may think that this map represents the effects of global warming and Australia is completely hidden under water now. Also, what do those bold numbers show? Probably the depth of the ocean in this area. In meters. Or in miles? But the area is still lit by sunshine, which instills some hope.

Visual Design: Escaping Flatland. Image 2

As a contrast, here's a weather map from a Japanese daily, beautiful in its simplicity.  This is the same Japan as on the first weather map above, only from the ocean perspective.  This map provides 0°C и 10°C  isotherms.  You see fine clouds on this map. The map shows sun movement.  OMG, it shows stratosphere! And it's nothing more than just a weather map from a daily newspaper  - but created by a good visual designer.

Visual Design: Escaping Flatland. Image 3

Of course, Japan is well-suited for such a nice graphical representation. But you gotta have guts to catch and use this ocean perspective, instead of helplessly surrendering to boilerplate view-from-above weather maps imposed by paper sheet or screen limitations.

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